This is the last of a series of articles 22-year-old Tobi Thompson wrote about her budget-friendly transcontinental road trip. Read her first here.
With a busted attitude and an empty wallet, I was about ready to quit on my transcontinental road trip. I was back home in New Jersey after cruising through the Southwest and the deep South—relieved to be back at my hotel job for a couple of weeks to regain some money for potentially 33 more states on the road. But it felt too good to be back home. I was too exhausted to want to continue. If I didn’t have to drive my friend Mely and her car back to Los Angeles, I would have given up there.
Before the trip, I thought I craved the road, the expedition, while I felt stuck at home. I left for this road trip because I wanted to get away from those dictating what I “should” do with myself and my life decisions on a daily basis. I had the opportunity, so I took advantage of the non-committed, tieless life.
The trip wasn’t an escape, though.
It was the expected exploration of states and sites with busy days, but it was too fast. Each day was a new city, which wore me out quickly. I was under the impression I’d be tired, but still enthralled by every movement, everything we’d embark on, since I usually run on passion. Instead, each city was a reminder of what I couldn’t afford or see and that the road was awaiting our silent, long drives yet again. I found myself wanting stability. For once, I was homesick. A source of income, my own car, all the love back home: these were luxuries. I didn’t want to think I had taken them for granted, or that I couldn’t be satisfied no matter where I was. But no matter where I stood, I had to continue with the trip to get Mely home.
After leaving New Jersey to travel through the Northeast and circle our way back to the West, I suddenly saw it in a new light: this was just a USA sampler. A bite of every state, not the entire entrée . The second half of the road trip was more rewarding once I realized it’s not about seeing the whole big picture, but key moments.
I saw 35 states in two months. The projected goal was to visit the continental 48 states with an activity done in each one in order to make it “memorable.” But accomplishing 73 percent of my goal didn’t make my trip any “less than.”
I got to meet with friends I hadn’t met yet, and friends I hadn’t seen in years. Friends who made my hours of exhausting drives worth it with a simple, common connection. One that bonded us with a foreign city. Mely and I were living in complete confusion of “what to do and where?”—but always saved by at least a suggestion or even a free place to crash.
Like in Ohio: While most won’t tout it as a vacation hotspot, time spent with good friends made Ohio a new home to one day return. I loved sharing old-school toy memories with Sam in Cleveland at Big Fun Toy Store. Eating Nutella-filled pancake balls with Rachel at Katalina’s in Columbus. I’m glad I had to drive Mely back home. It bonded me with her, the remaining states, and with so many friends. They knew it wasn’t easy, but their understanding, their placement in the country, and in my life is what made me happy on my trip all over America. Next thing I knew, I was boardin a plane at LAX.
Memorable is a funny term when it comes to a trip of a lifetime. Out of all the things you see on a 35-state sampler of the USA, what are the moments that truly survive? For us it was everything from camping in 20-degree weather at the Grand Canyon with every star in sight, to Netflixing at a friend’s house in Mississippi while torrential downpour kept us from doing anything else, to a spontaneous concert in “what else is there to do here?” Indiana. It wasn’t the actual road itself, of course. Even now, I can hardly remember what those long, boring, eight-hour drives through large states were like other than quiet. Deep, self-discovery, “meaning of life” conversations didn’t occur between my travel buddy and myself because we knew who we were. There was nothing more to discover, except the country itself (taken with a grain of salt) and how our friends across the States live and connect to us. It turns out I didn’t go on the road trip to escape my own life back home; I went on the road trip to connect to others’ lives.
Halfway through my trip, I felt drained. Now that I’m finished with 35 states, I feel revived. I’m enjoying my stability and time back home, but the traveling isn’t out of my system. What’s my next trip? Maybe to finish the U.S. Maybe Alaska and Hawaii, included. But that’s not what it has to be since the U.S. is no longer a bucket list for me to mark off ASAP. Lately I’ve been craving a trip abroad: to find and connect with my ancestors in Norway.